One of the best things about our Cross Catholic Outreach ministry partners is how they meet spiritual needs. In Guatemala, we work with a strong team of priests, religious sisters and Catholic lay leaders who work tirelessly to support the material and spiritual needs of the poor. This is a brief overview about the history of religion and Catholicism in this beautiful country, and how Cross Catholic Outreach is making a difference.
The most widely practiced religion in Guatemala is Christianity, with most people identifying as Catholic. Forty-five percent of Guatemala’s 16.58 million people identify as Catholic, 42% as Protestant, 11% as having no religious affiliation and 3%practicing Mayan religion, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam.1 Although Catholicism is the largest Christian denomination in Guatemala, it is often marked by traditional Mayan practices.2
Related: Our 2020 Vision for Guatemala
Prior to the colonization of Guatemala by Spain, the Guatemalan people practiced traditional Mayan religion. Their ancient practices included worshiping various nature gods, such as the gods of sun and rain, practicing astronomy and astrology, and ritualistic human sacrifice.
When Spain colonized Guatemala in the 1500s, they brought Roman Catholicism with them. Eventually, Catholicism was named the country’s official religion, and while most Guatemalans converted, they combined Christianity with many of their traditional Mayan cultural practices.3
In 1821, the Guatemalan people won their independence from Spain.4 It wasn’t until Guatemala became a democratically controlled government that freedom of religion was written into the Guatemalan constitution. Even though Catholicism is no longer Guatemala’s official religion, the Catholic Church is the only one officially recognized by the government as a legal entity. Other religions must file an application with the government to receive recognition and tax-exempt status.
In summer 2018, Cross Catholic Outreach engaged in an effective ecumenical effort involving the Catholic Church, the largest evangelical church in the country and the Guatemalan Jewish community to provide disaster aid and new homes to poor residents of a town destroyed by a volcano eruption outside of the capital.
In October 2019, Pope Francis elevated Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri, Bishop of Huehuetenango, to the rank of Cardinal.5 Cross Catholic provides food and medical supplies to the poor in Cardinal Ramazzini’s Diocese of Huehuetenango. He was named the Titular Cardinal of the Church of St. John the Evangelist in Rome (San Giovanni Evangelista a Spinaceto), and was recently appointed by the Holy Father to serve on the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life. He has also served on the Pontifical Commission for Latin America since 1990.
One of Cross Catholic Outreach’s longtime trusted partners is Father Raúl Monterroso, the director of Caritas ministry in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima. Drawing its name from the Latin word meaning “charity,” Caritas compassionately serves poor families with the love of Christ.
“For me, hope is grounded in faith. Wherever there is faith, there is hope,” said Fr. Raúl. “That is why for me, faith and hope represent believing in something much more beautiful, in a God who will never abandon us, a God who is always by our side and who changes our hearts.”
With faith at the foundation of its poverty relief efforts, Caritas has worked to transform lives with God’s love through a wide range of outreaches. Their projects have included feeding programs, educational efforts, house construction, community water systems, agricultural support — and even training for disaster response.
The Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima’s spiritual outreach, the People’s Holy Mission, was adopted to complement the work of Caritas. The spiritual approach focuses on the formation of spiritual leaders (Catholic lay people) for evangelization, renewal of the Catholic faith and inspiration to live out the faith.
The aim of the People’s Holy Mission is to experience a deep encounter with Jesus Chris at a personal level, to create small missionary communities at an ecclesiastic level, and to transform the world at a social level. With this genuine approach, the Diocese of Santa Rosa has reached the most vulnerable and underserved communities.
The diocese had a shortage of priests, and some villagers would go 4-6 weeks without seeing a priest for Mass or receiving the sacraments. The People’s Holy Mission helps equip Catholic lay people with to tools they need for spiritual growth on their own. In addition, the ministry trains catechists to minister to their communities.
In this spiritual approach, parish members (adults, youth and children) create small missionary communities that meet weekly in the house of a lay leader. At these meetings, members enjoy fellowship, read and discuss the Bible, pray, worship, and strategize about ways to minister to their local community.
To spiritually develop the lay leaders of these small missionary communities and the catechists the People’s Holy Mission hosts massive retreats and training events on a regular basis. Fr. Raul and his team believe God’s Word gives us “everything needed for life and godliness,” (2 Peter 1:3) and they’re committed to furthering the Gospel in both word and deed.
In the Diocese of Santa Rosa, lay leaders are crucial for evangelization and community organization. In rural communities, these lay leaders and parish members are actively involved in spiritual and social initiatives that promote social justice, restore dignity and support economic development.
Related: Addressing Poverty in Guatemala
The Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima, like all Cross Catholic Outreach’s ministry partners, is evangelizing the communities it serves by sharing the Gospel. The ministry recently sent us a story about a life changed through its spiritual outreach, 17-year-old Fredy Garcia. Like most of the children in the Diocese of Santa Rosa, Fredy grew up with little access to education or other resources. His parents took him to the local Catholic parish occasionally, but not regularly.
Even though his parents weren’t very interested in the Catholic faith, Fredy was. He wanted to be involved in his parish and loved learning about spiritual things. By God’s grace, he was in a diocese that wanted to see him thrive spiritually.
“I was 9 when I started the preparation for First Communion. I was going to Mass and it caught my attention how they served with love and showed happiness to be serving.”
After Fredy was confirmed, he immediately began serving his parish in any way he could.
“Thank God I achieved my dream of being an altar server,” he said. “This first consecration began my life of love of Jesus.”
What’s most impressive about Fredy is that he wants to share his hope with others—especially his parents. “My biggest dream was to get my parents to attend church. Thank God I did it.”
Fredy’s story is just one example how God is using our partners to minister to the hearts and souls of Guatemalan families.
Cross Catholic Outreach believes that the Gospel is an essential part of poverty relief in Guatemala, and that’s why we’re committed to supporting partners like Caritas and the People’s Holy Mission in the Diocese of Santa Rosa de Lima. Catholic spiritual formation provides a firm foundation on which families can build the rest of their lives.
Every month (on the 25th)
1. Guatemala – United States Department of State. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2020, from https://www.state.gov/reports/2018-report-on-international-religious-freedom/guatemala.
2. Gomez, M. C. (2020, May 8). Maya Religion. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.ancient.eu/Maya_Religion.
3. Woodward, R. L. (2008). A Short History of Guatemala. La Antigua: Editorial Laura Lee.
4. Horst, O. H., & Stansifer, C. L. (2020, March 24). The Post-Colonial Period. Retrieved May 11, 2020, from https://www.britannica.com/place/Guatemala/The-postcolonial-period.
5. Ramazzini Imeri Card. Álvaro Leonel. (n.d.). Retrieved April 30, 2020, from https://press.vatican.va/content/salastampa/en/documentation/cardinali_biografie/cardinali_bio_ramazziniimeri_al.html.